June 2, 2009
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
A cherry atop any season can be found in how a team finishes at home, finishes on the road, and finishes the final year of competition for its seniors.
The young University of New Mexico Lobo softball team batted 1,000 in these three categories and blessed its two seniors -- Samantha "Sammi" Hughes and Analise Rubalcava -- with a special ending to their four campaigns in Lobo Cherry & Silver uniforms.
Of course, Hughes and Rubalcava had a whole lot to do with a finish that saw the Lobos win their final home game at Lobo Field and their final game of the season on the road at Utah.
"It always helps to go into off-season training on a win, on a positive note," said Lobo coach Ty Singleton. "It also was nice to see these two seniors go out the way they did. They were tremendous players and great individuals who did a whole lot on and off the field to contribute to the success of this program.
"Analise and Sammi will be missed and they will be difficult to replace, but this is a young team with a lot of talent, a great attitude and a great work ethic. Our two seniors showed the importance of hard work and dedication and their examples will help make us a better team in the future."
Hughes and Rubalcava pushed their names into the UNM record books by climbing into the Top Ten in several career categories. Hughes: .418 on-base percentage (4th), 136 runs (2nd), 30 doubles (9th), 14 home runs (7th), 82 RBIs (8th), 251 total bases (6th), 81 walks (4th), 66 stolen bases (6th).
Rubalcava: .316 batting average (10th), .476 slugging percentage (7th), .426 on-base percentage (2nd), 92 runs (9th), 18 home runs (5th), 101 RBIs (5th), 243 total bases (10th), 90 walks (3rd).
The two seniors and roommates obviously were two of the stars of this Lobo team and their talent was recognized at the end of the season when they were named to the Mountain West Conference All-Conference team which was selected by the six MWC coaches.
It was the first time since 2006 that two Lobo student-athletes cracked the All-MWC lineup in softball. It was the first All-MWC honor for Hughes, a product of Albuquerque's La Cueva High. The versatile Hughes led her team in hitting for the season at .387 and launched a team-high eight home runs.
For Rubalcava, it was her second All-MWC selection and a hard-earned honor as the Chandler, Ariz., native had to fight back from a variety of injuries that hit her after her All-MWC season of 2007
She led the Lobos in batting during the MWC wars at .391. It was a tremendous feat for a natural third baseman, who left that position to help the Lobos on the mound after the UNM pitching staff had been damaged by the loss of three freshman pitchers after the 2008 season.
Coach Singleton did not dwell on UNM's bad luck on the pitching plate. The third-year UNM coach often looked at the gutsy performances in the circle as reflections of UNM's team-first attitude as an infielder (Rubalcava), an outfielder (Kerry Hodgins) and a freshman (Danielle Castro) took turns shouldering the pressure of the plate at the D-I level.
Rubalcava took to the circle despite not having pitched full time since her 12-U days with the Arizona Hot Shots and led UNM with 127.1 innings pitched. Hodgins threw 121.1 innings and Castro logged 63.1 innings of work.
"It was a courageous sacrifice and showed our team-first attitude," said Singleton, 263-219 all-time as a head coach. "All three players went out there and did their best and always bounced back with a positive attitude.
"Danielle is a true pitcher, but it was difficult for a young pitcher to have so much pressure put on her in her first season at this level. She continued to grow as a pitcher and always tried to learn and improve from her experiences out there."
The Lobos' final home game at Lobo Field was a perfect Senior Day for Hughes and especially Rubalcava.
First, it was a 6-4 MWC win over Colorado State. Second, the win was produced by a two-run, walk-off home run by Rubalcava in her final at-bat at Lobo Field.
"I'm in a different place right now," Rubalcava said after the win. "The ending was perfect for me. "I have no idea what I hit. I swung and just kind of blacked out. I don't remember it at all."
Said Singleton: "It was a fun way for the seniors to go out."
The Lobos, Hughes and Rubalcava got another big, feel-good win a few days later as they closed their season with a 5-2 win at Utah. Hughes and Rubalcava combined to go 3-for-5 against the Utes with four RBIs and two runs scored.
Hughes hit her eighth homer of the season in the first inning to knock in (who else?) Rubalcava. The Lobos closed the season 13-35 overall and 4-11 in MWC play.
"This team never gave up," said Singleton. "They were always trying to find ways to be successful, to produce runs, to challenge for a win.
"We always came out aggressive on defense and offense. I expect both those areas to improve and we'll have a lot more help pitching next season."
The Lobos had seven players bat over .280 and four players bat over .300 in 2009. Cristin Anderson and Shaunte Duarte have positioned themselves to be two of the top seniors and top infielders in the MWC in 2010. Duarte hit .315 and Anderson was at .303 and tied Hughes for runs scored this season with 38.
Katie Gilmore also should be a solid senior leader next season. She hit .286 and was second to Hughes with 140 at-bats. Singleton will return 11 Lobos from 2009 including seniors-to-be Erin Brandow and Andria Martinez and talented sophomore-to-be catcher Jessica Garcia. Singleton said he will bring in at least two pitchers for 2010 and at least seven first-year Lobos.
The 2009 team was young but gained valuable experience at the Division I level playing 11 NCAA qualifiers and seven games against ranked opponents.
The Lobos` two biggest wins were a 1-0 victory over No. 20 DePaul and a 3-1 win at San Diego State over an Aztecs team that was on a nine-game win streak and receiving votes in the national polls.
We only lose our two seniors," said Singleton. "We have a lot of young promising players coming back and we have some talented ones coming in to help us in key positions and with depth. We are expecting a much better year in 2010."